Nathan Hall

20-year-old Nathan Hall had just turned 15 when he decided to see his GP about fatigue. What followed was a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Here, Nathan talks about diagnosis, relapse and his life after leukaemia.

In March of 2015, two months after my 15th birthday, I was diagnosed with a form of cancer known as acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

When I began feeling very worn out from walking up my stairs, I went to my GP a few days later. The following night, I was called up and told to go to hospital for further tests. Then, within 48 hours of diagnosis, I was transported down to Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, not knowing this is where I would end up spending the next four months battling cancer. I quickly become accustomed to hospital life. By placing myself into a  positive mindset and telling myself there was little point in dwelling on what could’ve been. I was unfortunate enough to have been dealt a shit card in life, so I dealt with it and used it as a means of building myself as a person.

By mid-summer 2015, I had battled through four rounds of intense chemotherapy which wiped me out completely – I was underweight, tired and, primarily, bald. But finally, I was declared in a state of remission and allowed to return home. The next few months were scary for me, constant worrying if my cancer would return. Knowing the survival rates following relapse only made me overthink – much more than I should have.

Nearly a whole year had passed, and our family had planned a week in sunny Florida in the peak of summer. Around a week before the planned dates for our holiday, I began feeling a little more lethargic than usual, so, I decided to err on the side of caution and get a blood test done. I biked two miles to the hospital, walked into the ward, and asked them to take a blood test. After confirming my history, they took it and I returned home. A week later, I was on the train down to the airport, suitcase overhead, earphones in, when I suddenly got a call from the hospital telling me I needed to come back in for more tests. I suspected at that moment the cancer had returned, and so I got off at the next station, returned home, and went back to the hospital.

I was transported, once again, back down to Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital where I was to undergo a bone marrow aspiration. As expected, the results showed it had relapsed – shit. The next few weeks were relatively easy for me as I was already accustomed to the process and symptoms, but the news took a toll on my entire family. Everyone thought I was in the clear, but life always screws you over somehow.

Prof. Rob Wynn and his team proposed that I undergo a bone marrow transplant. After signing a consent form stating that I had understood this treatment could cause future cancers, or even death, I underwent conditioning chemotherapy in preparation for the transplant. During this time, my lungs were affected by a fungal infection and filled with fluid, impairing my breathing, leading me to spend a couple of weeks in intensive care under the influence of a lot of painkillers and drugs. I then had severe, life-changing hallucinations from an allergic reaction to an antibiotic drug used to treat my infection; I believe this experiment subconsciously fascinated me once the ordeal was over, leading to me to strive toward understanding exactly how our brains can hallucinate such vivid imaginations, something which, as of now, I am still incredibly fascinated with and hope to begin studying further at university.

After recovering, I was then ready for transplant. I was moved into a secure ward with specialised air filtration in each room, and its own controlled climate. For six months I was fed food which was devoid of any flavour from the intense heat it was subjected to in order to sterilise it. After what seemed like an eternity of keeping myself occupied with building model kits and playing computer games, I was ready. On December 23rd, Anthony Nolan delivered my new bone marrow for transplantation and, at the end of the day, I officially had the immune system of a new-born. I was released a few months after recovering and ensuring everything had grafted correctly and without issues.

Fast forward to 2019, I am now 20 years old. I went back to college and got my GCSE qualifications and started a level 3 course which has secured me a place at the University of York to study Biomedical Sciences, fulfilling my passion to understand more about the human body, disease and advancing treatments. I will be forever grateful for my entire family and the support and sacrifices they have made to be there for me during and after treatment. I will be in remission for four years come December 23rd 2019.

Everyone that surrounded me was very supportive and caring. I got quite self-conscious about my lack of hair, and I was reluctant to go outside without a beanie hat on. This continued up until a year ago when my wonderful girlfriend gave me the courage to be happy with myself and not care what others think.

I have a completely different outlook on how I view life and people. I used to be quite cynical, only caring about me and my own little bubble, but now I am a lot more aware of the problems that people all over the world go through and how everyone copes in different ways.

Catching leukaemia in its early stages is the key to finding an effective treatment, hence why the signs and symptoms must be understood and differentiated from similar symptoms which occur in daily life. If it was not for the quick reactions of both my GP, hospital and consultants (Professor Rob Wynn, Dr John Grainger and Dr Denise Bonney), I don’t think my outlook would have been so great, so I owe them my life, literally.

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